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Posted 3/6/2005 3:21 PM Updated 3/6/2005 4:03 PM

Virginia had record year for tornadoes
The Associated Press
Last year set a record for tornadoes in Virginia, according to weather and emergency officials.
Weather-service records show that 86 tornadoes touched down in 52 localities during 2004 — four to six times the normal number that hit the state in a year.

They were the spawn of a matching record-high number of tropical cyclones pummeling Virginia last hurricane season. Three-quarters of the state's 2004 tornadoes were associated with the remnants of hurricanes Gaston, Ivan and Jeanne, said National Weather Service meteorologist Bill Sammler in Wakefield.

Preliminary reports show that Virginia was struck by the seventh-largest number of tornadoes of any state last year, Sammler said.

The 2004 storms injured 14 people and caused more than $70 million in damage in Virginia, the state Department of Emergency Management said.

Fauquier County had the highest number of tornadoes, with six last September, including one rated as an F3, or severely damaging, on the Fujita Wind Damage Scale.

"We said 31 tornadoes in 2003 was a record," said Michael Cline, the state's emergency-management coordinator. "Now that we've nearly tripled that record, regardless of where you live in Virginia, you need to be prepared for tornadoes."

Most of the tornadoes in the state last year were rated as F0, causing light damage, or F1, producing moderate damage, with winds of up to 112 mph.

Cline said tornadoes can occur at any time of year and often strike with little or no warning.

Signs of an approaching tornado include a dark and often greenish sky, large hail and a loud roar that sounds like a freight train. The safest place to be during a tornado is on the lowest level of a building, away from windows.

"Virginians should take notice that the commonwealth is vulnerable to tornadoes," Sammler said.

Seven tropical cyclones — Alex, Bonnie, Charley, Frances, Gaston, Ivan and Jeanne — affected Virginia last hurricane season.

The Atlantic has been in an active hurricane pattern that experts say is likely to continue for some time.

"For the last 10 years, we've had more tropical systems in the Atlantic basin than we have had in history, the last 150 years," Sammler said.

On the other hand, he said, Virginia's tornado outbreak last year was so unusual that "the chances of it repeating itself in 2005 are very, very small."


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